Procrastination is a terrible thing. I’m supposed to write an email for a mailing list every other week, but it’s been six. I’m supposed to write two or three blogposts a week, but I’ve barely been managing one. I’m supposed to read and explain an academic paper a week, but I’ve barely been scraping by. I’m supposed to code novel solutions to cool problems every day, but everything I make feels like repetitive drivel.
Chalking it all up to procrastination is a cop out. Procrastination is never the cause, it’s the symptom.
Truth is, I just haven’t been feeling very creative. That inner impulse that drives you to create has gone missing. Energy flows elsewhere.
For the past few weeks there’s been a party at my place once a week, I’ve been herding my friends like cats and going out two or three nights a week. I’ve met dozens of new people. It’s fun, but boy does it take time.
I’ve become an extrovert.
Just two months ago I was some 5% introverted, now I’m 1% extroverted. Not much of a difference, but the change correlates perfectly to when I stopped feeling that creative urge.
Strange, no? Maybe not.
They do say writing is the loneliest profession.
Every creative I’ve ever talked to has said they find it easier to work when there’s no people around. Late at night, very early in the morning. Alone.
Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer recently started writing a book each. He locked himself up in a cottage for two months, she posts a picture from a new coffee shop every day. She presumably goes there to be away. You can follow it all on twitter and their blogs.
I remember watching an interview with Dave Grohl where he said that Nirvana and Foo Fighters produced their best albums locked up inside a studio in a city where they didn’t know anyone. The worst albums were when producers insisted on checking up on them every day.
Seems anyone you ask will tell you being alone is paramount to creativity. It just doesn’t work otherwise.
Does that give introverts an edge, perhaps?
Introverts genuinely enjoy spending time on their own. They’re the happiest in their own place, surrounded by familiar things, where they can enjoy their own company to the fullest. Where they can recharge.
This drive to spend time alone, to get away from others to recharge, gives your average introvert plenty of time to spend inside their head. To think. To create. And they’ll never get tired of being alone.
Unless they become lonely.
When you’re doing one of these loneliest professions in the world, loneliness will creep up on you when you least expect it.
Writing – you have to be physically alone. Musicing – only band mates allowed. Programming – a mish-mash, it depends.
I recently read an article from 2012 about developer depression, here. It says that loneliness is the leading cause of depression amongst programmers. Not that they are generally more depressed than the average person, but that their work does lead to more loneliness.
It’s very difficult to deal with people when your head is full of code and you’re thinking like a machine. Switching from hard logical thinking to soft emotional thinking is hard at the best of times.
On top of that, we spend the majority of our time staring at screens, isolated from everybody else by headphones, each person deep in thought on their own problem and while there is a lot of togetherness at the office, there is little real interaction.
A programmer is always alone in a crowd. By choice. Because we can’t work otherwise.
And when they get out of work, what do most programmers do?
Go straight home to sit behind a computer and work on pet projects or play around with the newest super cool technology. Even when you do get them out for a drink, half of them bring laptops, the other half is staring at their phones. Conversation mostly revolves around code and algorithms and technology.
Maybe I just have terrible friends …
Point is, getting developers to actually socialize is nigh impossible. All other introverts I know can at least be social when they go to a bar. Programmers can’t even do that.
I’m sorry but you just can’t make an emotional connection with another human being by discussing whether merge sort or quick sort has better performance characteristics in the real world. It doesn’t work that way.
The whole Age of Social thing we’re going through right now doesn’t help either. We’ve reduced far too much of real human interaction down to likes and ranking algorithms and casually browsing through people’s lives on the internet.
An article aptly named Forever Alone cites research saying that all this faux interaction is making us ever lonelier and lonelier. You should read it, here.
So where does that leave programmers and other creatives? We have to be alone to create. But we don’t want to be lonely. We mustn’t be lonely.
Where’s the right balance?
More importantly, how can we make sure everyone at the office feels a sense of belonging and community, while spending most of their time avoiding others so they can create?